The Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture was created from a 49,000 square foot complex of Norman-style barns, which were converted, to an educational center, offices, and a restaurant. Originally designed by Grosvenor Atterbury, the barns were built in the early 1930s by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. near Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate. The Center is now part of an 80-acre non-profit farm and nature preserve developed by David Rockefeller, Sr., his daughter Peggy Dulany and D.R. Horne & Company.
The Center’s mission is to “demonstrate, teach and promote sustainable, community-based food production.” The larger landscape and site planning included demonstration gardens, used as part of the Center’s educational mission, and a multi-acre greenhouse, developed with Eliot Coleman, which operates year-round. The project was awarded a NYSERTA certification for sustainability from the state of New York.
The four-season and pastured livestock farm grows crop varieties best suited for the locality and raises the types of animals Westchester pastures can support. All farm products are raised for food. By contemporary measures, the farm is small, but it is well diversified and extremely productive, producing fresh, healthy produce year-round, including in winter, continuing to harvest vegetables grown in the greenhouse, using very little heat aside from what the sun provides. In January and February up to 35 different kinds of hardy winter crops are grown. Eliot Coleman, creator of Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine, developed the greenhouse operation and outdoor gardens. Through years of experimentation, Eliot discovered how to make the most of the sun in winter, even in the Northeast, where weather conditions in the colder months are severe. Considering the Hudson Valley lies as far south as Barcelona, Spain; and Spanish growers get enough daylight to farm year-round – to make up for the temperature difference, he uses a little low-tech intervention, in the form of minimally heated greenhouses, plastic-covered tunnels or old-fashioned cold frames.
Many of the farm’s products are offered at one time or another on the menu at the restaurant and café, showcasing the farmers’ year-round activities by bringing the field to the plate, with the surplus available to retail customers at farmer’s markets and traditional food outlets. In both the restaurant and the café, menus are dictated by what products are in season and at peak flavor.
Livestock and crops are intensively managed in a symbiotic relationship, attempting to mimic nature’s own methods, preserving the soil and locking in important nutrients. By working in partnership with the environment, instead of resisting its natural tendencies, food is produced without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. The only amendments to the soil are compost made from humus-rich manure, minerals and organic material, and the farmers continually explore the most appropriate breeds, seeds and ecological dynamics for creating a diverse, resilient and reliable food system.
The Center’s livestock program is built on the same philosophy of environmental compatibility. Animals are raised on pasture that’s kept healthy and productive through intensively managed rotational grazing. Ruminants do best when they are allowed to eat this way; confined, grain-fed animals, in contrast, are much more susceptible to illness. Grass-fed animals have dramatically lower cholesterol and saturated fat than their feedlot counterparts, and far higher in omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats–the “good fats” that protect against heart disease. Cows can fertilize and pack compost in the barn through the winter; rooting pigs will gleefully aerate it in the spring. Grazing cattle will contentedly spread their own manure if they’re kept on the move with the help of portable waterers, structures and fencing.
Strategies for maintenance include intensive paddock management, so grazed pasture has ample time to recover, and natural refuges for birds and other wildlife, essential for the maintenance of ecological balance. In this way, the farm can sustainably co-exist with the wild flora and fauna.
The education center’s rich mix of programs and activities provides an intriguing path for people to participate and learn. For adults that includes cooking classes, tastings, how-to workshops and lectures, in-depth book discussions with noted authors and more. For kids there are school programs, farmer-in-training after-school activities and a summer day camp. There are numerous family activities and volunteer opportunities. See more of the project at: http://www.machado-silvetti.com/projects/stone_barns/index.php